–by Ranchor Prime (Nov 18, 2016)
It is often supposed that humans can get what they want from this world provided they are prepared to work hard enough for it—that with our superior intelligence we can win wealth by exploiting the earth’s resources, while animals can only follow their instincts in the struggle for survival. The ability of humans to exploit their environment is presumed somehow to give us rights over animals and nature. This misconception lies at the root of the expansion of human domination of the planet over the past 500 years.
A different concept is taught by the Vedas [the ancient philosophy of the part of the planet we call India]. This planet and all she produces does not belong to humanity, any more than she belongs to the other species living here. The earth is satisfied when she sees her produce symbolically returned back to its original source….
The traveler in the part of the planet we call India soon learns to appreciate the ancient trees that often grow by the wayside. Planting trees and digging wells have traditionally been the two great acts of charity by which anyone could earn merit and universal appreciation. And therefore trees such as mango, neem, or banyan were planted along the roads to give shelter and shade, their leaves acting as natural air conditioners. Beneath their broad canopies generations of wayfarers, stopping for a rest or a meal, have found relief from the heat.
Sadly these big shade trees along the roads are now becoming rare, but wherever they are found they carry with them a brooding sense of magic and history. They stand as silent symbols of India’s spiritual roots, outposts of the vast forests and jungles that once covered the continent, gave shelter to Rama in his years of exile, and echoed with the sound of Krishna’s flute as he herded the cows.
Sages dwelt in these forests, living simple and austere lives in search of spiritual perfection. Living with them beneath the trees were their students, who could learn the Vedic truths in perfect natural surroundings, reminded in a thousand ways of the all-pervading presence of the Divine….
Scientific knowledge has advanced in many fields in the last 200 years, making it possible for us to manipulate nature and produce material benefits our predecessors could not have dreamed of. However, the Vedic scriptures advise that knowledge of matter, namely science, must be cultivated alongside knowledge of spirit if it is to benefit humanity….
The golden rule of economics has always been: what you take must be returned and whatever you return shall again come back to you. But once the process of production and its technology are removed from the immediate community, it becomes very difficult to sustain this balance, or even to recognize where it might lie. For example, if I cut a tree for fuel, I can plant another one, or better still five more, and in due course I will reap the benefit of my foresight. But how can I know the environmental cost of the energy I consume when it is generated in a huge and distant power station, and how am I to keep my side of the environmental balance, restoring whatever has been taken? I have lost control, and more importantly, I have lost the sense of responsibility—it seems no longer my concern to maintain that balance.
So it is not surprising that humanity has now arrived at a point where we are taking more than we are returning. Or worse still, we are taking goodness from the earth and returning poison; and, as a consequence, we are receiving that very same poison back from the earth.
If we are to resolve the environmental problems that now beset us, we must examine the connection between our environment and our way of life. A way of life does not exist in a vacuum. It is based on a way of thinking, a philosophy of life….
Now that we have left the trees far behind, perhaps we are ready to learn again what those who lived under them—and we—once knew. Only this time, in the words of the poet T. S. Eliot, “the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
–Ranchor Prime. Selection from Vedic Ecology: Practical Wisdom for Surviving the 21st Century, (Mandala Publishing, 2002). [Illustration offered as an anonymous gift :-)]